I am delighted to introduce the next woman in our science communicator blog series! Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Velvet Was the Night, Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, and many other books. She has won the Locus and British Fantasy awards for her work as a novelist, and the World Fantasy Award as an editor.
BOUTIQUE ACADEMIA: You don't describe yourself as a scientist, but you're an award-winning, best-selling author who has an MA in Science and Technology. This is a relatively new academic field that is probably not well-known to our readers, but is likely to become increasingly relevant to modern society. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and why you decided to pursue that degree?
SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA: STS (Science & Technology Studies) is an interdisciplinary field that examines the development and consequences of science and technology in their cultural and social contexts. It’s very eclectic and I had classmates who were focused on subjects such as science policy and rhetoric, while others were looking at the history of science.
My background is in communications and I worked for a decade in science communications at a Canadian university. I decided to get my MA because I found the porous nature of STS interesting, and also because I thought it would make me better at my job.
Science doesn’t exist in isolation. Everything from research funding to the adoption of new types of technology is an interaction of many different fields and people. I’m typing this and emailing it because the Cold War precipitated the development of military technology that would allow the dissemination of information even after a nuclear attack. This need led to the formation of the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), the network that became what we now know as the Internet. Science, therefore, sometimes has to do with Cold War politics, with military funding, etc.
BOUTIQUE ACADEMIA: Sometimes people think of the sciences as being academically very distant from the arts... two separate universes, almost. But in my experience these fields inform and influence each other in many ways. For instance, the story-telling within Star Trek, Carl Sagan's books, and other science fiction, shaped how a whole generation thought about space and astronomy. Do you feel like your thinking was shaped by any science fiction when you were young? How about your writing?
SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA: I read a lot of my pulp era SF when I was young. It doesn’t appear blatantly in my fiction in the sense that I’m not writing John Carter of Mars pastiches, but it provided me with a very broad literary education and it echoes in more subtle ways. My thesis ended up being on Lovecraft, women and eugenics, so much of my research was exploring literature and its connections to early 20th century scientific discourse. I wrote a novella called "Prime Meridian" which is a near-future, very low-tech science fiction effort that is supposed to be in direct juxtaposition to the expected notions of science fiction as big, epic soap opera.
BOUTIQUE ACADEMIA: Your new book, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, seems to involve themes related to genetic engineering and scientific ethics. Did you find yourself reading up on those topics (or any others) in order to frame the story?
SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA: We’d discussed scientific ethics widely during my Master’s and I’d also had a good exposure to Victorian science due to my thesis work. I read some of my materials on Darwin and Galton again, looked at some of the lab and medical apparatuses available at the time, and perused what would have been cutting-edge science at the end of the 19th century (blood transfusions, the increasingly controversial practice of vivisection in Wells’ days, etc). I also looked at literature that includes scientists and experiments. I read Julian Huxley’s “The Tissue-Culture King” and looked again at stories such as “Rappaccini's Daughter.”
Anyway, here's an interesting ethics and science case: research chimps. What do you do with research animals once they are 'retired'? In 2015, the National Institutes of Health ended biomedical research on its hundreds of chimps. Since then, it's been moving the animals to a sanctuary in Louisiana. But this project has not been without its bumps and issues. You have chimps that can live for decades. Who cares for them, who pays for it, how do you move them, can you move them, etc. That's the thing about science. It's a web, with many players and factors enmeshed together. To understand science better, you have to look at its connections.
Thank you for the interview, Silvia! I'm looking forward to reading your new book with friends and discussing scientific ethics.
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